Tackling medical schools' informal curriculum

No one would dispute the importance of courses, laboratories, syllabi, and textbooks the formal curriculum on the education of doctors. This month, medical educators report on their efforts to change the informal curriculum of a medical school--the affect that students' interactions with peers, faculty, and others in the academic medical center, has on their qualities as future physicians, their values, and how they interact with others. Their research findings appear in the May issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The Indiana University School of Medicine has been a national leader in the refinement of the formal curriculum. Over the past four years, the School has designed and implemented a competency-based curriculum assuring that each graduating student has a sound foundation of knowledge and skills for their future careers in practice. Now the school's faculty is tackling the more difficult challenge improving the informal curriculum, the 'lessons' they teach by their actions daily. In doing this work, the school's goal is to use the social environment of the academic medical center to improve the practice of medicine, to enhance the expression of professionalism, and to teach by example. They are learning to pay closer attention to the interactions between physicians and students, physicians and patients, and students and patients.

"Competence is the buzz word in medical education today, but few medical schools actually do anything to teach or assess it in the full sense. At our school we are hoping to make our competency-based curriculum (the formal curriculum) such an integral part of our culture that it will mirror the hidden curriculum. We need to make them indistinguishable," says Stephen Leapman, M.D., the IU School of Medicine executive associate dean for educational affairs.

"The IU School of Medicine is an ideal laboratory for this process because it has an outstanding formal curriculum that teaches students

Contact: Cindy Fox Aisen
Indiana University

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